HAVANA – Cuban police early Friday morning hauled away 21 young men who had occupied the ground of the Mexican Embassy in Havana, the communist government said.
Mexico officially requested that Cuban authorities intervene after the men, who had crashed a hijacked bus through the embassy's gates, refused to leave when asked.
The men had apparently thought Mexico would grant them political asylum after the Cuban exile radio station Radio Martí on Wednesday repeatedly quoted Mexican Foreign Secretary Jorge Castañeda as saying that "the doors of the embassy of Mexico on the island are open to all Cuban citizens."
"Today at 4:30 a.m.," said a statement released by Havana Friday, "an operation by specialized and unarmed personnel undertook the eviction, which took place without the least minor incident ... and conforming to the request and desires of the government of Mexico."
Mexican President Vicente Fox had sent a foreign relations department official, Gustavo Iruegas, to try to defuse the crisis.
Journalists at the embassy were unable to see the operation because the street outside had been blocked by police cars and wooden barricades. Two trucks sped away from the embassy shortly after 4:30 a.m., but it was not known whether the Cubans were inside.
There was no information on where the men were taken or what charges might be filed against them.
Shortly before the operation, Cuba issued a communiqué that described the young men as common criminals who were not politically motivated in their attempt to leave the island.
"None of them is really motivated by ideas or objectives of a political character," the government statement said. "Soon it will be said that the people caught up in the adventure of Wednesday night are dissidents and prisoners of conscience, but that won't stop us from unmasking them from head to toe."
Fox spoke with Cuban President Fidel Castro about the situation by telephone on Thursday, said Gloria Abella, spokeswoman for Mexico's Foreign Relations Ministry.
Abella also said the youths were not political dissidents.
"There has been no request for political asylum, this is a different kind of situation," Abella said at a news conference in Mexico City. "These are young people facing a difficult economic situation, like many in Latin America."
In the first statement issued early Friday, the Cuban government offered details about the occupation of the embassy and the police operation outside the mission Wednesday evening.
It said that the bus was seized nearby and the passengers aboard were forced off before it went speeding toward the mission gates. While 21 youths managed to enter the embassy grounds, another four sustained injuries that required hospitalization.
After the occupation, police arrested 150 more people who then attempted to enter the embassy, the statement said. The government also characterized those people as "antisocial" criminals.
Castañeda, who visited Miami this week, was angered by Radio Martí's use of his statement. He said Thursday that his words had been taken out of context by "radicals" who "no doubt wanted to use, to distort, my declarations."
Castañeda told Radio Red that reports in Miami had confused two separate statements he made there while opening a Mexican Cultural Center. He said he declared the center's "doors are open to the entire Latino community in Miami" while also saying that Mexico itself was open to Cuban dissidents.
In a statement Thursday, Fidel Castro's government called the reports from Radio Martí a "gross provocation" that led listeners to believe that Mexico would grant refuge to any Cuban who showed up.
Operated largely by Cuban exiles in Miami, Radio Martí beams anti-Castro news, talk shows and other programs to the island.
Radio Martí officials in Miami denied the allegations Thursday.
"Radio Martí did not manipulate Castañeda's message," said Wilfredo Granados, the station's chief of reporters and correspondents.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.